This article is based on my Persuasive Communication and Influence workshop.
The CIO role spans and must influence all parts of an organization without directly controlling them. Today’s trends — global, mobile, data-driven virtual business — increase the stakes and make CIO influence not only important for the CIO’s personal success but for the success of the company as well. This requires skills and competencies that may not come naturally to many IT leaders.
There are two main trends that are driving a shift in power in IT.
First is the ongoing integration of information technology into all aspects of business, from the way work gets done to the very products companies sell. This is causing massive changes in both business and operating models, affecting people, process and organizational structures, according to a recent study by Harvard Business Review Analytic Services (note: this is a PDF file). As a consequence, a lot more people have a lot more to say about what happens when it comes to IT.
The second trend is the “consumerization” of IT. Technology is everywhere. Both employees and customers – especially younger ones – transact and interact through mobile devices, easy-to-use applets and social networks. In the process, they have come to expect a certain type of experience – and they increasingly want the choice to be their own.
While these trends in one sense have a kind of democratizing effect, that does not mean decisions about and management of IT are any easier; quite the contrary. To the average consumer, technology seems simple – and that’s a good thing. But as any CIO knows, achieving simplicity in the technology world is not simple at all.
IT leaders must learn to lead through collaboration and influence.
With technology more central to business operations and outcomes, IT has a greater responsibility for company performance and results. At the same time, there are more stakeholders involved, so IT has less direct control over the decisions that will determine those results. IT leaders must learn to lead through collaboration and influence.
Influential leaders share three common traits.
Credibility: They have built credibility with business colleagues and employees by first and foremost delivering the fundamentals. Successful CIOs refer to this as “table stakes” – the price to get into the game. If you haven’t been able to deliver services reliably and securely, no one’s going to listen to or be inclined to go along with your ideas. Credibility is increased when CIOs engage with colleagues’ most important business challenges and successfully devise solutions to help them meet their goals.
Trust: Influential leaders have earned the trust of their colleagues by doing what they said they would do – everything from meeting project deadlines to delivering the right capabilities and results – again and again. Trust is deepened by sticking to commitments even when times are tough.
Relationship: Influential leaders develop strong relationships over time. These relationships are certainly enabled by credibility and trust, but it takes more than that. They also require the less tangible elements of identification and liking. Various studies support the idea that people like and prefer to work with people who are like them in some important way. If you can’t find common ground with your colleagues – if IT is viewed as somehow different and separate from the rest of the business – your work will be that much harder. Fostering positive feelings of liking in this context happens by showing people that you’re interested in their goals, problems and lives – and that you can relate to them on a human level – because – no surprise – people tend to feel kindly toward people who like them! One of the most fundamental laws of human behavior is that of reciprocity: If you like me, I’m more inclined to like you. And if you do something for me, I’m more likely to do something for you in return.
The pace of change today is hurricane force – and IT is right at the center of the storm. The goal no longer can be for IT to keep up with business or end users or customers – things are happening too fast for that – but to make the journey together. Sometimes one group may be out ahead, sometimes another, but in a strong relationship based on credibility and trust, the CIO will always have a leadership role to play. It just may not look like what you expected.
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